Managing and protecting the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef ecosystem on earth and one of the best managed marine areas in the world. At 348,000 square kilometres, and including some 2,500 individual reefs of varying sizes and shapes and over 900 islands, the reef is one of the richest and most diverse natural ecosystems on Earth. The unique qualities of this property were recognised in 1981 when it was inscribed on the World Heritage List.

Strategic assessment - Great Barrier Reef

The Australian Government, including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and the Queensland Government have completed a comprehensive strategic assessment of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and adjacent coastal zone.

Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report

The Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2014 provided an important stocktake on the state of the Reef and its outlook, based on the best available information at the time.

A multi-use property

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is a multiple-use area in which a wide range of activities and uses are allowed, including extractive industries but not mining. A new Zoning Plan for the entire Marine Park came into effect on 1 July 2004 and protects over 33 per cent of the Park though no-take zones (known also as green zones).

The comprehensive, multiple-use zoning system minimises impacts and conflicts by providing high levels of protection for specific areas. A variety of other activities are allowed to continue in a managed way in certain zones (such as shipping, dredging, aquaculture, tourism, boating, diving, research, commercial fishing and recreational fishing).

Protective legislation

The reef is protected by two complementary pieces of federal legislation:

  • the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 oversees activities in the marine park
  • Australia's key national environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, protects nationally significant matters including the Great Barrier Reef World and National Heritage areas.

These acts provide an internationally recognised world class system of environment and heritage protection. To ensure use of the Great Barrier Reef remains sustainable, activities in the World Heritage Area and marine park are tightly controlled under these laws, as well as other relevant state and federal laws.

New frameworks for protection

In 2006, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 was reviewed and a series of measures proposed to strengthen the legal, governance and policy frameworks relating to the management and long-term protection of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Act 2007

A body of new measures was implemented to protect the reef during 2007 - principally via the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Act 2007. The Act commenced on 1 July 2007 and amended the governance, accountability and transparency requirements of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975.

In particular, the amendments provided for:

  • a five-yearly, peer-reviewed 'Outlook Report' to document the overall condition of the marine park to be tabled in Parliament and published
  • an enhanced process to engage stakeholders in the development of zoning plans for the marine park, and
  • zoning plans to be 'locked down' for a minimum of seven years from the date they come into force to provide stability for business, communities and biological systems.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2008

A second amendment Act - the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2008 - was passed by Parliament on 12 November 2008. The Act put in place a modern, future-focused regulatory framework to secure the long-term protection and ecologically sustainable management of the reef.

Great Barrier Reef Intergovernmental Agreement

In 2009, the Australian and Queensland governments developed a Great Barrier Reef Intergovernmental Agreement for the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area to secure the long-term conservation and protection of the reef.  The aim was to enhance coordinated and collaborative approaches between the Australian and Queensland jurisdictions.

Other relevant state and federal measures

Reef Water Quality Protection Plan

The Great Barrier Reef is under pressure from many factors - one of which is the poor quality of water running into it from adjacent catchments. The Reef Water Quality Protection Plan (Reef Plan) is a framework for the Australian and Queensland governments to work together - along with industry, regional natural resource bodies and others - to improve the quality of water flowing into the Reef.

The Reef Plan established in 2003, and updated in 2009 and 2013.

Investment

The Australian Government continues to invest significantly to monitor and protect the reef, to increase its resilience in the long term and allow the sustainable use of this natural wonder.

Australian Government Reef Programme

The Australian Government’s Reef Programme builds on the success of Reef Rescue (2008–2013) where more than 3200 land managers received water quality grants for on-farm projects to adopt better land management practices and improve quality of water entering the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.

The programme continues to support land managers to adopt improved land management practices that will reduce the discharge of nutrients, sediments and pesticides into the reef lagoon, as well as supporting a broad range of managers and researchers across the Great Barrier Reef catchment, including urban areas, to address the threats of declining water quality and climate variability.

The programme is made up of several integrated components:

  • Water Quality Grants and Partnerships
  • System Repair and Urban Grants
  • Water Quality Monitoring and Reporting and Research and Development
  • Crown of Thorns Starfish
  • Land and Sea Country Partnerships
  • Support for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

Over the next five years (2013–2018), the programme has already contracted the delivery of approximately $142 million to suppor the health of the Reef.

Funding of $12.5 million over four years commencing in 2013-14 is also being provided to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. This funding will help to protect and preserve the Reef by coordinating strategic research in such areas as reef resilience and climate change.

Australian Government Reef Achievements (2008 - 2013) report

The Australian Government Reef Achievements report provides information on the success of the Australian Government’s investments through the Reef Rescue Programme to reduce nutrients, pesticides and sediment discharge into the reef from broadscale landuse over the period 2008 to 2013.

Great Barrier Reef Report Card 2012 and 2013 - Reef Water Quality and Protection Plan

The Great Barrier Reef Report Card 2012 and 2013 measures progress from the 2009 baseline towards Reef Quality Protection Plan 2009 (Reef Plan) targets. The report card assesses the combined results of all Reef Plan action up to June 2013.

Publications